Steam billows into the air and the train hoots as it runs ponderously along the bridge, over the magical waters towards the beckoning forests. Harry Potter hangs his head out the window, wind rushing into his smiling face, inflating his cheeks and tickling his tongue. “This is what joy tastes like,” he thinks. “Knysna, here i come!”
That could’ve been me but sadly i planted my heart in Knysna after the floods of 2006 which damaged the tracks in Kaaiman’s Pass and began the death of the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe. The line got limited and eventually the famous steam train met ignoble retirement.
Talk of its return has never stopped whispering, mostly due to quotes from MEC for Tourism, Alan Winde, or the Friends of the Choo-Tjoe appearing every few months in a newspaper somewhere in the Western Cape. But reality has always been harsher than fantasy. The train may have sold R10 million worth of tickets annually but ran at a loss for the same amount. Eventually, Transnet stopped its charity.
The Choo-Tjoe has been in the news again although September’s headlines were conflictory: Garden Route loses its ‘Choo-Tjoe’ versus Steam Train Back on Track if Funds Permit. “Funds” is the operating word. It’s estimated that it’ll cost R200 million to get it steaming again. That’ll only happen if big business steps in. Ideally, i’d love the train to be the best airport shuttle service in the world (Knysna to George – wouldn’t it be grand to avoid the ridiculous taxi fees currently being charged?) along with simpler forays to Brenton and Wilderness.
Even if its heroes overcame the major obstacles in their way, such as it being considered by some as a White affair rather than a South African one, the line could be limited…so limited that it may not even run a Knysna route.
The one thing politics and capitalism can’t stop me from doing is dreaming of steam.